Thursday, October 27, 2005

Congratulations, White Sox

The World Series was a microcosm of the White Sox' season. The Sox won four games by a combined margin of 6 runs. They never led at any point in the Series by more than two runs. And this was a team that thrived on winning close games: they were 68-35 in games decided by two runs or less.

The downside to this is that there's virtually no chance of them repeating that. Let me put my Rob Neyer hat on and point out that one-run wins are largely random, and an extremely good record one year will usually come back to .500 or thereabouts.

The upside is that...well, they're the World Champions, so who gives a damn how they did it?

Frankly, I think both these teams are headed for a decline in 2006. Paul Konerko will probably be paid huge amounts of cash to play first base in either Southern California or New York, taking with him much of the White Sox offense. The White Sox will try to play small ball on a large scale, except that calling the Sox a small ball team ignores the fact that they hit 200 home runs, fifth in the major leagues, and Konerko hit 41 of those. But their pitching will remain good enough (particularly if the Devil picks up his option on Jose Contreras) to keep them competitive, to the tune of 82-88 wins.

I'm more interested in the effect this will have on the Astros. Brad Lidge was clearly NOT the same after that home run to Pujols. And while I don't think he's going to pull a Donnie Moore on us, there's certainly ample evidence to tell us that he won't be the same after his various and sundry collapses in this postseason.

If they had won the Series, there would have been a lot of hidden benefits for the Astros. Most importantly, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio would probably have retired, clearing a huge amount of payroll along the way. As it is, those guys will probably give it one more shot next year, and will probably both use up lots of at bats and dollars trying in vain to prove that they've still got it.

I completely figured the Astros wrong at the start of all this, and the World Series exposed their flaws. Berkman and Ensberg are the only hitters in the lineup worth worrying about, and the White Sox pitching staff gave everyone a blueprint for how to neutralize Ensberg, who looked positively horrible in the Series. This Houston team was really no better than Philly or New York (who were virtually identical in run differential), and caught two wounded opponents in the NL playoffs. In retrospect, they might have been the worst World Series team since the 1988 Dodgers. And with Bagwell and Biggio sticking around for another year, they'll probably be a lot worse in 2006. With St. Louis, Chicago and even (you laugh at your peril) Milwaukee all promising to improve next year, this team could dive to 4th in the division.

Nevertheless, the Astros were clearly a valiant opponent. They played hard, took nothing for granted and, despite what Phil Garner seems to think (as an aside, Peter Gammons tirade last night over Garner throwing his team under the bus was one of the great highlights of this postseason), represented their city with pride. They were simply overmatched by a much better team, and there's no shame in that.

In 2004, the Red Sox broke an 86 year streak of futility. In 2005, the White Sox broke an 88 year streak of futility. In a fair and just world, 2006 will be the year of the Cubs.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

'Prison Break': The Good, Bad and Ugly

If you've watched any FOX programming at all over the last 6 months, you've at least heard of "Prison Break". I'm a regular. I love the show, and I want you to love the show, too. And yet, there are some things about it that really bug me. So, here's the breakdown...

The Good:
Michael Scofield, our hero, is equal parts MacGyver and Andy Dufresne. I mean, this guy is cool. He's a structural engineer who gets thrown in prison to break out his brother. The trick is that his engineering firm designed the place, so he knows it inside and out. Wentworth Miller, who plays Scofield, is also a pretty good actor (and, by the standards of this show, he becomes a phenomenal actor...and that's not necessarily a compliment).

T-Bag, a white supremacist/child molester/murderer who lucks his way into the jailbreak is really one of the most creepy and nasty TV villains I've ever seen. I mean, the guy is scum with a capital S. I'm almost wondering if Robert Keller's career will go "Gordon Jump" on us, where he won't be able to get any work after playing this guy. By the way, all that's a compliment to how well the character is acted.

The interaction between Scofield and Fernando Sucre, his cellmate/co-conspirator, is a never-ending source of fun. The scene where they attempt a handshake/fist touch/hug and fail miserably is high comedy.

The authority in the prison is very good. The dichotomy between Warden Pope, who's played as a benevolent sort of guy, and Officer Bellick, who's played as a hardass, possibly dirty C.O. is good stuff. Dr. Sara Tancredi is the prison doctor who's plenty easy on the eyes and has some underlying romantic tension with Scofield. All three parts are very well acted.

The plot is original and fresh. And by that, I mean that it's ripping off stuff that's more than 10 years old (again, this show is a cross between The Shawshank Redemption and MacGyver). Again, this may sound like an insult, but in today's vast TV wasteland where there are virtually NO new ideas, if you're going to rip something off, at least make sure it's good (check) and not recent (check). Also, they do a nice job of twists and turns in the plot.

There atmosphere is very authentic, from filiming the thing at the now-closed Joliet State Penitentiary (they actually film some of the scenes in John Wayne Gacy's old cell) to the lingo, to the racially-charged atmosphere (there was a huge race riot in the third episode) to the um, cohabitation of inmates. Of course, I've never been to prison, but I imagine this is a reasonable facsimile of what it's like, or at least as much as they can show on network TV. It's not Oz, but it's as close as they can get on FOX.

The Bad:
A lot of the acting is TERRIBLE. And not even from bit parts, either, these are all main characters. Dominic Purcell, who plays Lincoln Burrows, keeps going for the Clint Eastwood "tough guy who talks softly" thing, and fails miserably. As a direct result, the interactions between Burrows and his son fall completely flat. And the kid is so bad I'm actively rooting for him to get killed at this point. Robin Tunney, who plays Veronica Donovan, is so wooden she might catch fire at any moment. Peter Stormare, who plays John Abruzzi, the imprisoned mobster, changes accents by the episode. This was so bizarre that in one episode, I actually thought they were using a voice-over. Stormare, according to the recent Prison Break: Behind the Walls special, is Sicilian. He's playing a mob boss. This is not exactly a character that should be out of his range.

Credibility is stretched to its absolute limit at times. For one thing, Scofield can't keep his mouth shut. I mean, this jailbreak has everyone but the Birdman of Alcatraz involved. Half the prison seems to know about it. There was a guard who stumbled onto the break, and yet ALL the guys involved in the break (except T-Bag, who ultimately kills him) were okay with letting him live. Really? I can see Scofield wanting to let him live. I can even see his cellmate being okay with it. But Abruzzi, the mobster who's probably killed dozens of people, all of a sudden is going out of his way to protect the guard? There are many, many other examples (i.e. the insane amount of freedom Burrows is given for a death row inmate), but the one that really bugs me is the whole "D.B. Cooper" thing. One of the inmates, named Charles Westmoreland, is suspected of being the infamous D.B. Cooper, who hijacked a plane and parachuted out with $1.5 million. Scofield walks through it with him step by step, trying to prove that Westmoreland is Cooper. And then, at the end of his explanation, Westmoreland simply says "how could I be D.B. Cooper when I was serving 30 days in Folsom at that time?" Somehow, our hero, in all his meticulous preparation, overlooked this MINOR detail. (If we find out later that Westmoreland was lying, then I'll forgive this little oversight, but for now, it bugs me.)

Of course, that all ignores the question of how Westmoreland/Cooper got there in the first place. Let's get this straight: he's a guy from Boston, who may or may not have robbed a plane that was coming out of Portland, OR. He may or may not have stolen a car in Brigham City, UT, but definitely ran over a woman in Arizona, near the Mexican border, for which he was arrested, tried, convicted and incarcerated, all presumably under the state laws of Arizona. Got all that? Okay, so what's he doing in a prison in Illinois?

The "vast government conspiracy" angle seems to drag at times. That's not really the show's fault, it's just that FOX has taken that angle to it's absolute limit with the "X-Files" and "24".

Finally, at what point does Scofield stop being a hero? In a recent episode, he shuts off the air conditioning to the cell block so he can get a lockdown. This leads, not too surprisingly, to a riot, which ultimately leads to a bunch of people getting killed, including the guard. He's trying to save his brother's life, but as a direct result of his actions, an innocent man got killed. Isn't there SOME blood on his hands? Yet in the next episode, they're talking about "huh, how do we deal with this and not have T-Bag blow the roof on the whole thing?" No mention of, "geez, Michael, we got that guard killed!"

The Ugly:
You've got to wonder about the shelf life of this show. They're already pitching the "escape is just the beginning" angle. I think it's the "getting out of prison" part that makes the show interesting, and fear it will start to drag once they're outside and fighting the "vast government conspiracy".

Then again, I didn't think "24" would have a lengthy shelf life, either. Hopefully, I'll be wrong about this show, too.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Gus Frerotte, Steve Breaston and Philip Fulmer Have One Thing in Common...

...they're all a big part of this blog post.

Gus, it's time to take a seat. I'll be writing about this soon, but suffice to say this much: the Buffalo game was excusable; everyone has a bad run. And there's no shame in getting beaten up by a really good defense (Tampa Bay) in their house. But playing like crap against a Chiefs defense that made the 2005 Mark Brunell look like the 1997 Mark Brunell, at home? Inexcusable.

---

DirecTV has the most wonderful functionality; there's a 30 second fast forward function. You may have already known about that and how ideal that is for commercials. What you may not have known is how great that is for football games.

Case in point: on Saturday, I was doing a bunch of things while the Michigan-Iowa game was on (more on that in a moment). As a result, I didn't get to sit down and watch the game until about 2:30, when it started at noon. I had recorded the game and started using the 30 second fast forward between plays. Since football teams usually take 30 seconds between plays, unless they're in the no-huddle, this works extremely well for moving forward quickly without missing anything but inane announcer prattle.

Three other notes about that game:
  • I've probably seen worse officiating before, but it's hard to remember when. The officiating crew for the first half? Dick Bavetta, Earl Hebner, Bo Schembechler and Chad Henne's dad. I was a Michigan fan, and even I thought they were being one-sided. The second half featured a couple of ridiculously bad calls that might have been excused if the refs had just said, "we screwed Iowa in the first half and thought we should make up for it."
  • Steve Breaston is a fascinating player. It seems like he does absolutely nothing until it's crunch time, and then suddenly he turns into Desmond Howard (the college version, not the pro). He's the closest parallel football has to Robert Horry, it seems. Right now, I have absolutely no idea where Breaston will be drafted. Teams could look at his talent and knack for big plays and pick him in the top half of round 1. Or they could look at the 3/4 of the time that he looks utterly indifferent and he could drop to round 4 or 5.
  • A couple weeks ago, Penn State implored its fans to stage a "white-out" for the prime time game against Ohio State. So the student section dressed in all white, many painting their faces, and the effect on TV was tremendous. Very cool, especially with the contrast of a night game under the lights. Iowa decided to try the same thing, staging a "black out" for this game. They implored their fans to wear black, trying to get the same effect. Unfortunately, since the only black guys in the state of Iowa were on the football field, they had 50,000 white people dressed in black shirts. So it ended up looking like the auditions for Fight Club 2: Tyler's Revenge. I don't know, maybe that would work better at Howard University or something.

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I was pulling for Texas Tech on Sunday, since they were the last good chance of beating Texas, but their beating recalls one of my favorite scenes from "The Color of Money". Fast Eddie (Paul Newman) beats a guy (billiards great Steve Mizerak) in the climactic 9-ball tournament, and the guy says, "I didn't deserve that", to which Fast Eddie replies, "yes. Yes you did." Tech's been whooping it up, having a jolly old time against absolutely terrible competition. I'm pretty sure they beat St. Mary's School for the Blind at one point. They've been running up the score, showing a complete disregard for any kind of sportsmanship and generally setting a horrible example for kids who play Pop Warner football. So, when they got thumped by a bigger, badder bully, it was hard to feel too bad for them.

Of course, now Texas pretty much has a yellow brick road to the Rose Bowl and a shot at the national title, but I still have some faith in Mack Brown blowing it.

---

The whole "'Bama hates Philip Fulmer" thing has gotten out of hand. The locals apparently view Fulmer, who turned the Tide in on rules violations, as the anti-Christ. Fine. If they want to be pissy, let them be pissy. But let's not pretend that Fulmer broke some sort of code of honor here. Bear Bryant would have done the exact same thing if the opportunity had presented itself. Fulmer saw a perfectly legal opportunity to weaken a long-time thorn in his side and took it.

By the way, all those headlines about "The Most Hated Man in Alabama" were false. I'm pretty sure the folks at Auburn don't have a big problem with Fulmer.

---

Quick hits and cheap shots from Sunday...

  • I was wondering when the old Drew Bledsoe would re-surface. I mean, this guy who was making smart decisions and acting the part of a brilliant field general was NOT the guy I watched play for New England and Buffalo. Welcome back, Drew!
  • Meanwhile, the Eli Manning Era continues to get better. What a great drive at the end of the Broncos-Giants game. Eli's got a spot on my fantasy team for the next 6 years.
  • Speaking of fantasy teams, Joe Vitt and Marty Schottenheimer are both off my Christmas card list.
  • Hey, how about that Jeff Garcia? He might be just good enough to lead the Lions to the 7 wins necessary to win the NFC North. By the way, what do you think the reaction would be if Joey Harrington came back in? I mean, that would almost have to kick off massive riots in Detroit, right?
  • The funniest football moment of Sunday, in retrospect, had to be Lan and I arguing whether Reche Caldwell or Jabar Gaffney was a better receiver. I mean, that's like two bald guys fighting over a comb.
  • Finally, is anyone looking forward to the inevitable Hysterical Ray news conference when the Saints announce they're leaving New Orleans? Not that I'm endorsing Tom Benson throwing the city under the bus (I think it's a pretty damned scummy thing to do; much worse even than the midnight move out of Baltimore, or Art Modell's move back there), but this guy's grip on reality is something else; he reportedly asked the NFL for the "Cleveland deal" if/when the Saints leave town. That is, guarantee New Orleans the "Saints" name, logo, history and a team in the next round of expansion. Right. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one, pal.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Fun with JFK References

There are Larry Bird fans, and then there are Larry Bird FANS. This has to be read to be believed.

I suppose it's a good thing for his friends and family that he wasn't a big Wayne Gretzky fan.

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Am I the only one that thinks "Harvey" should be Roy Oswalt's nickname? Or does Roy "Harvey" Oswalt cross the boundaries of good taste?

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How long do you think it took the Smoking Gun to put this up? 30 seconds? Maybe 45?

That said, would it have killed DeLay to take the Nick Nolte approach? I mean, no one takes him seriously anymore these days, so why not go the whole nine yards? Show up unshaven and hung over, sporting a Grateful Dead t-shirt and a "F**k You" hat.

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Say what you will about him, but I'm fairly confident we won't see Fidel Castro crying and screaming on TV about the federal government after Hurricane Wilma blows through Cuba. Fidel's public appearances are always fun, what with the ZZ Top beard and the world's worst-fitting military uniform. I hope CNN does an interview with him.

By the way, does anyone look at photos of Fidel now, recall October 1962 and say, "THIS is the guy who nearly brought the world to the brink of nuclear war?" He looks like he needs help tying his shoes and opening his pudding cup, let alone launching some Soviet nuclear missiles.

---

My World Series pick? Astros in 7. I'm pulling for the ChiSox, of course, but the way Houston shrugged off that devastating Game 5 loss was really impressive. That showed some stugots. Or, to sound like a crappy baseball announcer, some real mental toughness. And as the immortal Yogi Berra said, "90% of this game is half-mental."

So, I suppose the Astros have 45% of the game down pat. I guess their superior offense and better top-of-the-rotation starters will make the difference with the other 55%.

---

Made a new addition to my top 25 favorite movies ever last night. I saw "The Color of Money" for the first time. I can see why Paul Newman was the cat's ass back in the day. His performance is phenomenal. He absolutely carries the movie from start to finish.

This was back before Tom Cruise was a heavyweight actor, of course. By 1993, Cruise would have been better able to hold up his end of the movie. That's the one thing that left me a little unsatisfied about the movie. Was Cruise supposed to start as a protagonist and end as an antagonist? I get the feeling that he was, but he never really makes you dislike him. At least I don't think he does. It's also a movie that could have benefitted from another 15 minutes of development on Vince (Cruise) and on Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, before her look was blatantly ripped off by Andie McDowell). No matter, still a phenomenal movie. Maybe there's something in the Director's Cut Edition, if one exists.

By the way, there's comedy, there's high comedy, and there's Cruise's hair in this movie. It seems to get taller as the movie goes on, to the point where he looks like the guy from Kid n' Play by the end.

---

One last thing that bugs me: this business about the greatest home run in playoff history, a frequent knee-jerk reaction to a big home run, like Pujols'. Somewhere along the line, everyone agreed that Kirk Gibson's homer in 1988 was it. Why wasn't I consulted on this? Joe Carter and Bill Mazeroski both hit World Series-ending homers, but Gibby gets top billing without any question?

Don't get me wrong, that was an amazing feat, and there's still plenty of room for debate on the subject. Maybe you can argue that the A's were sunk the minute Gibson took Eck deep. It's a powerful argument. But I think ending the damn series then and there takes precedence.

My buddy Andy is coming back to town this weekend. I'll consult his opinion on the matter. Frankly, I do not know a bigger baseball fan. The guy turned an MBA from a very prestigious business school into a job working for a minor league baseball franchise for, maybe, 1/5 of what he could have made elsewhere. THAT'S love for the game, folks.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

In Defense of the BCS

Well, it's that time of year. Leaves fall from the trees, greedy little children go door-to-door demanding candy, and the initial BCS standings come out to the usual pissing and moaning of college football wags.

Understand, I'm no big fan of the BCS. I think the only way to do things right is a bona fide playoff system, be it 4 or 8 teams. However, that's not happening in my lifetime or yours. There's too much money and interest in keeping the bowl system as we know it alive, and pretending that the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta Bowls are on completely equal footing and are played on or about New Year's Day. So, given those circumstances, I believe the BCS is the best we've got.

"Oh no, Notre Dame's 16th in the newest polls! Those stupid computers have it all wrong!"

This is always my favorite complaint. "Those stupid computers." Here's what NO ONE bothers to say: "those stupid humans" are scarcely any better. How many voters actually take the time to watch enough games to really make an informed judgment about the teams on which they're voting? Zero. Maybe they read the scores and tinker with things from the week before. That's it. Say what you will about the computer systems, but at least there's some objectivity there. They were originally introduced as an attempt to take out some of the human bias that goes with the AP and USA Today polls. When the computer polls dared to have a different outcome, there was a great hue and cry that they should be de-emphasized, even though the whole point of the BCS was to get rid of some of the silliness that goes into the polls. So, essentially, people complained about getting the exact outcome that this was designed to have.

Let's take the Fighting Irish as an example. Would I take Notre Dame, on a neutral field, above many of the 15 teams above them? Sure. With my hard-earned cash on the line, I'd take them over Texas Tech, UCLA, Penn St, Boston College, Oregon, Wisconsin and Ohio St. However, the computers don't look at it that way, and they shouldn't. The computers look at their 4-2 record and see that they've beaten the worst Michigan squad in 20 years, a terrible Washington team, a drastically overrated Purdue team, and a team coached by Dave Wannstedt. The computers see that Notre Dame has lost to the only two really good teams they've faced so far. What, precisely, is so bad about that? If we're trying to use all the evidence available to us to find the best teams in the country, why wouldn't you incorporate this sort of objective analysis into things?

"Hey, what if USC, Texas, Virginia Tech and Georgia all go undefeated? Someone's getting hosed!"

We are not even halfway through the college season, and already, there's a concern about "what if everyone goes unbeaten?" I'll tell you what: I'm willing to bet anyone a decent chunk of cash that no more than two teams will be unbeaten when the final standings come out. Actually, I think we'll only have one unbeaten team by that point. Every weekend, some team will lose that shouldn't. Always happens. Did you think Free Shoes U would lose to Virginia this past weekend? Me neither, but it happened, just like it does every weekend.
  • USC still has three top 25 teams left to play (by the way, I'd like to welcome the Pac-10 back to the realm of conferences that actually play major college football. We missed you guys!).
  • You think Texas is a mortal lock to run the table? Folks, I've seen Mack Brown's work. The guy's capable of dropping any game at any time. With the talent Texas imports every year, he should have about three national titles by now.
  • Virginia Tech has a murderous schedule still to play, and if they get through it intact, they're probably playing Florida State in the ACC Championship.
  • Georgia and Alabama have the same problem. And then they're probably playing each other in the SEC Championship, which assures they can't BOTH be unbeaten.
  • If you think Texas Tech or UCLA is running the table, it's time for your family to stage an intervention.

I said early in the year that Miami's loss to the Seminoles, while unfortunate, did not sink their national title hopes. And I stand by that. The Canes are the best 1 loss team out there right now and if/when these undefeateds fall, they'll be in a good position to pick up the pieces if they run the table (though with VT on the road, that's obviously no lock).

"Okay, Mr. Smarty Pants Canes Fan, what happens if we've got a bunch of one-loss teams slugging it out? The BCS is sure to screw that up."

Uh, then we're no worse off than we used to be. If there's not going to be a playoff, why not take all the evidence into account, both objective (computers) and subjective (humans) and try to determine the best two teams in the country? That was the whole point of the BCS in the first place. In the bad old days, there was no guarantee that you'd get the two best teams playing one another. The old bowl system had their locked-in conference champs. The BCS came about largely because Michigan and Nebraska, the two best teams in the country by far, had to split the 1997 national title. Michigan, as Big Ten champ, was locked into the Rose Bowl. If the BCS had been around, Michigan and Nebraska would have waged a classic war and in the end, there'd be no doubt about who was better.

There was never any guarantee that the BCS would do right by everyone, just that it would set up a matchup between the consensus two best teams in the country. And for the most part, it's done that. Have there been some bumps in the road? Sure. Auburn got hosed last year, and there was a split national title before that. But how is that any worse than what used to happen? Penn State in 1994 had a claim to a national title equal to Auburn's last year. Split titles happened several times before 2003. Until there's a playoff, there's always a chance that there will be some doubt. And since there will never be a playoff in college football, you can do one of two things: live with the system the way it is, or watch something else.

No one seems to care that, more often than not, the BCS has gotten it right, and has given us matchups we wouldn't otherwise have seen. In 2002, Miami played Ohio State, a matchup that wouldn't have otherwise happened, and pitted two undefeated teams against one another. In 2001 and 2000, there was some controversy about who the number 2 team in the land was, but at least the BCS ensured that Miami and Oklahoma would be playing worthy opponents. In 1984, BYU won the national title by beating a Michigan team that was extremely subpar in the Holiday Bowl. In 1999, we got undefeated Florida State and undefeated Virginia Tech, when in prior years one of those teams probably would have been picked off by the Orange Bowl, and the other by the Fiesta. In 1998, after mass chaos on the final weekend, we ended up with Tennessee and Florida State, arguably the two best teams in the nation.

It ain't perfect, but the system, as we've got it, is probably the best we're going to get.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Cleaning Out the Inbox

The good thing about being me is that I've got a lot of friends and family who forward jokes. The bad thing about being me is that I've got a lot of friends and family who forward jokes. Nevertheless, here are some of my recent favorites...

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A new father goes into the delivery room to see his newborn baby boy. The doctor pulls him aside and says, "I have the most amazing news. Your boy can fly!" The doctor sees the doubt in the father's eyes so he offers a demonstration. He picks up the little boy, holds him high in the air and then lets go. The baby falls to the floor with a loud thump.

"You son of a bitch!" says the new father.

"Wait, something must be wrong. He flew this morning. Let me try again". He flings the boy across the room and he slams against the wall and slides down to the floor. "Oh my god, I am going to kill you!" says the father as he is running towards the baffled doctor.

"No no wait, I know what I did wrong. I promise it will work this time". He opens the window and tosses the kid out. The kid, of course, falls 7 stories and leaves a mess on the sidewalk below. By this time the father is choking the doctor.

With his last breath the doctor says, "I was just messing with you. Your son was born dead."

---

A woman in a hot air balloon realized she was lost. She reduced her altitude and spotted a man below. She descended a bit more and shouted, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am."

The man consulted his GPS and replied, "You are in a hot air balloon approximately 30-feet above a ground elevation of 2346-feet above sea level. You are 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes north latitude and 100 degrees, 49.09 minutes west longitude."

"You must be a Republican," said the balloonist.

"I am", replied the man. "How did you know?"

"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help so far."

The man responded, "You must be a Democrat."

"I am," replied the balloonist, "but how did you know?"

"Well," said the man, "you don't know where you are or where you are going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it's MY fault."

---

A woman was at her hairdresser's getting her hair styled for a trip to Rome with her boyfriend. She mentioned the trip to the hairdresser, who responded, "Rome? Why would anyone want to go there? It's crowded and dirty and full of Italians. You're crazy to go to Rome. So, how are you getting there?"

"We're taking Continental," was the reply. "We got a great rate!"

"Continental?" exclaimed the hairdresser. "That's a terrible airline. Their planes are old, their flight attendants are ugly, and they're always late. So, where are you staying in Rome?"

"We'll be at this exclusive little place over on Rome's Tiber River called Teste."

"Don't go any further. I know that place. Everybody thinks its gonna be something special and exclusive, but it's really a dump, the worst hotel in the city! The rooms are small, the service is surly and they're overpriced. So, whatcha doing when you get there?"

"We're going to go to see the Vatican and we hope to see the Pope."

"That's rich," laughed the hairdresser. "You and a million other people trying to see him. He'll look the size of an ant. Boy, good luck on this lousy trip of yours. You're going to need it."

A month later, the woman again came in for a hairdo. The hairdresser asked her about her trip to Rome. "It was wonderful," explained the woman, "not only were we on time in one of Continental's brand new planes, but it was overbooked and they bumped us up to first class. The food and wine were wonderful, and I had a handsome 28-year-old steward who waited on me hand and foot. And the hotel was great! They'd just finished a $5 million remodeling job and now it's a jewel, the finest hotel in the city. They, too, were overbooked, so they apologized and gave us their owner's suite at no extra charge!"

"Well," muttered the hairdresser, "that's all well and good, but I know you didn't get to see the Pope."

"Actually, we were quite lucky, because as we toured the Vatican, a Swiss Guard tapped me on the shoulder and explained that the Pope likes to meet some of the visitors and if I'd be so kind as to step into his private room and wait, the Pope would personally greet me. Sure enough, five minutes later, the Pope walked through the door and shook my hand! I knelt down and he spoke a few words to me."

"Oh, really! What'd he say?"

"He said, 'Where'd you get the shitty hairdo?'"

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You think this update is a little weak? Tell you what, ask me if I give a damn.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Tuesday Ramblings

Things my buddy Lan actually said, Volume 1:

After I traded Willie Parker (who just lost his starting job) and Isaac Bruce (who's now hurt) for Torry Holt (who's leading the NFL in catches, yards and is tied for third in receiving touchdowns) in one of my leagues...

"I wouldn't have made that deal if I were you."

You're never going to believe this, but Lan was 0-4 in one of his leagues coming into the weekend.

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No Yanks, no Red Sox. Hey, there is a God! Okay, that's not fair. Aside from their overexposure and obnoxious fan base, I really don't have anything against the Red Sox. Hopefully, this will humble them and they'll go back to being a likeable team in 2006. The Yanks, of course, can go straight to Hell. Or as I said to my father-in-law on Sunday night, "Derek Jeter likes little boys."

(I'm not sure why that's relevant. But it was fun to say then and still fun now.)

And as a positive side note, the network execs at FOX are presently playing Russian Roulette at the thought of having two League Championship Series without a single team in the Eastern Time Zone.

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If you're not watching "My Name is Earl", you're simply missing out on the best that TV has to offer. It's almost certainly the best new comedy in a decade. And believe me, that says about as much about the show as it does about how crappy TV has become. Still, it's a great show.

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I was at the Dolphins-Bills game Sunday. In fact, if you watched the game, I can almost guarantee you saw me on TV at some point. We had tickets two rows up from the end zone, directly behind the goal posts beneath the jumbotron. As for the rest of the game, um, we won't talk about it right now.

I will note that they retired Thurman Thomas's number at halftime, which was overdue. No player in any sport, with the possible exception of Chipper Jones, has done more to scare the crap out of me than Thurman. So good for him. Of course, every time I go to a game at The Ralph, it seems like they're retiring someone's number and they're running out of space on the walls.

Fortunately, since the Bills stink, it'll be a while before they have to start adding more names.

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When I write my book, The 800,000 Things I Will Never Understand About Women, one of the chapters will be "Why do they want to know what I'm ordering when we're at dinner?" Unless said woman is the waitress, there is no reason she should care what I'm ordering. When I'm out to dinner with Kev, Lan and Joe, the only reason one of us will ask what the other is ordering is if we've never been to that place before and want to know what's good. That's it. And since we go to the same place every time, it never comes up.

No matter who I'm eating with, be it my wife, my sister, my mom, a female friend or whoever, they will always ask "what are you ordering?", no matter how many times we've been to that restaurant, and no matter how many times I've ordered the same thing there. And as far as I can tell, it's not a productive instinct. They're not asking because they want to try what I'm ordering. I'd almost rather have them say, "what are you ordering, because I want to mooch some." But they don't. They just ask, as though this information is somehow important. Are you concerned for my health? Watching my cholesterol intake on my behalf? Is there one dish on the menu that's poisoned?

One of these days, I'm going to lose it and pull a Jack Bauer, and start screaming in the midst of a crowded restaurant. "WHY DO YOU CARE? WHY IS THAT IMPORTANT? WHERE IS THE BOMB?!?"

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Fantasy Football Makes You a Bad Person

Nothing in this world alters your perception of things quite like fantasy football. Every run, reception and score is greeted with either wild hysteria or crude belligerence. Every shot of an injured player on the field makes you wonder "is that guy on one of my teams?" And then, there's always every fantasy football player's nightmare: watching Sportscenter, and having them come back from a commercial break, with Dan Patrick's face stone-cold serious, and a picture of your star player in the top right hand corner. "Joe Schmoe turned himself in to Philadelphia police today on two counts of..."

For instance, if there was one player I'd want to see injured this weekend (you think fantasy football players don't cheer for injury? That's like asking if Paul Maguire phrases his statements in the form of a question.), it would be the Steelers' Willie Parker. Mind you, I have nothing personal against Fast Willie. In fact, I kind of like the Steelers. I've got a lot of friends who are Steeler fans, and the fact that the Steelers beat the Bills, Jets and Patriots last year (my own personal Axis of Evil), earns them my gratitude. But Willie's emergence as a star has killed the trade value of Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis, two players I have in one of my leagues. And my team could use some help via trade. So, Fast Willie, so that Duce and Jerome may be valuable, you must be hurt (or ineffective). Tough break, kid.

I own Priest Holmes in one league, and when Larry Johnson was arrested for beating the crap out of his wife, the first question I asked wasn't "what's the matter with him?" or "is she okay?", but rather, "hey, is he getting suspended for that?"

And nothing is more cut-throat than a fantasy draft. Disinformation flies around like the heyday of the CIA and KGB. In one league last year, before the draft, I said, "Jamal Lewis just took a plea bargain. He'll be in prison for the next 3 months!" Panic and hysteria ensued while I stood there trying to keep a straight face. In another league this year, we had a new entrant. He picked Marcus Robinson in round 6. We laughed until we saw that he was trying to hang himself by his belt. Then we took his belt and shoelaces away and kept laughing.

Every year, I used to tell myself that next year I'll stop playing fantasy football, at least for a year. "I'll go back to watching football like I used to," I said, " just caring about the teams."

Then I realized something: I wasn't any better at that. It used to be like this: every game that could somehow affect the Dolphins' season was greeted with wild hysteria or crude belligerence. Whenever I had one player I'd want to see injured, it would almost certainly be Tom Brady or Willis McGahee. Not because I have anything against them, but because the worse the Bills or Patriots are, the better off the Dolphins will be. When the Dolphins' Randy McMichael was arrested for beating the crap out of his wife, the first question I asked wasn't "what's the matter with him?" or "is she okay?", but rather, "hey, is he getting suspended for that?"

Ah, fantasy football. Where would we be without you?

Friday, October 07, 2005

A Look at the Playoffs

OK, it's usually about this time of year that I make the decision as to what team I'm pulling for in the playoffs. (Actually, I made the decision a few days ago, but this is the first chance I've had to share it.)

Last year, I ended up cheering for the Red Sox. How could you not? That was an extremely likeable team, whose fans were absolutely overdue for a title. Plus, since the Red Sox are the first line of defense against the Yankees' Borg-like assimilation of America, it was really the right thing to do.

One year later, the Red Sox have grumbled and argued their way to the postseason on the sizeable shoulders of David Ortiz, after being arguably the most overexposed team in recent history. Say what you will about Derek Jeter, but he never made an appearance on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" (possibly because he's not actually...oh, never mind). Seriously, that TV appearance, combined with pretty much everything Johnny Damon's done over the last 12 months, turned me against the Red Sox. I wanted Baltimore to win the East, but after a big first half, they stunk up the joint. I'd have settled for Toronto, but they never got close (though they could be the team to beat next year, so let me be the first to invite you aboard the "Jays in '06" bandwagon). In any event, with this year's postseason upon us, it was time for a new team.

The Yankees and Braves are out, for obvious reasons. I've never quite been able to decide which I hate more. One's like the obnoxious rich kid at school who drives the nicest car, scores the hottest babes and constantly looks down his nose at you, and the other's like the bully who pushes you around occasionally because he feels like it. Let's just end this comparison before I go back into therapy.

The Angels just won a World Series (2002, if you've blocked it from your memory), but they've got the LA fan thing going. You know, arrive in the second inning, leave in the seventh. I've always hated Dodger fans for that. Angel fans aren't quite as bad, but they're up there. Plus, they can't decide what city they're from. Throw in the fact that they were the original progenitor of those obnoxious "Thunder Stix", and they're out. But I do hope they beat the Yankees.

The Padres? Can't cheer for a team that was actually worse than my beloved Mets. Look it up. If the Mets were in the West, they'd have won that division handily. And, I suppose in one sense, they are. I mean, New York's in the western hemisphere, and if you want to take the great circle route around the globe, New York is west of California. Look it up.

The Astros? Got to consider them. They've had a lot of tough losses over the years and their fans may be football fans first, but they're definitely passionate baseball fans, too. And you know what, if they didn't have Roger Clemens, I might just pull for them.

That leaves the White Sox and Cardinals. The Cards have the best fans in baseball, no doubt about it. That gets them an extra point. And they got robbed out of the World Series in 1985 (by Don Denkinger's horrible call) and in 1987 (by Jack Clark's injury, which caused them to lose to the Twins, who were arguably the worst world champ of the previous 50 years...only to be replaced by the '88 Dodgers). I hope they come out of the NL. There's no place like Busch Stadium in October.

Here's the thing about the Cards, though: take away Pujols and Carpenter, and that's a .500 team. They suffer from the same problem as the Red Sox, who were a David Ortiz injury away from .500 baseball.

The White Sox, on the other hand, are a bona fide TEAM. There's no one player you could take away that would make them not be a playoff team. Maybe without Paul Konerko, the Indians and Red Sox get past them. Maybe. But they play baseball the way I grew up enjoying it: they pitch extremely well, play great defense, and get timely hitting.

Plus, I believe there's a certain kinship between Mets and White Sox fans. Or there should be. Both are indisputably the "second team" in their respective city. Save for a few brief periods, the Mets have always played second fiddle to the Yankees. Ditto for the White Sox, vis-a-vis the Cubs (which is sort of baffling considering the Cubs, historically, have stunk). The White Sox haven't won a World Series in 88 years, which gives them the edge over everyone else (though the Astros and Padres have never won it, the Astros came in in 1962, the Padres in 1969).

The thing that clinched it for me, though, was watching game 2 and seeing how badly their fans want this. Every pitch that was within 6 inches of the strike zone and called a ball was greeted with a collective groan. When Iguchi hit his 3 run homer, the entire stadium went apoplectic. At that moment, I was hooked.

Go Sox.

(White, not Red.)

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Thanks, Mike

I have been a Mets fan ever since I started following baseball. In that time, I've had a few heroes. The first was Darryl Strawberry. I believed that Straw could accomplish absolutely anything as a Met. I was convinced that he was the best right fielder in baseball and that he was the greatest power hitter in the game. I would have walked from my small town in the Adirondacks all the way to Queens if I thought I could meet Straw.

Then he ripped my heart right out of my chest.

It wasn't the drug abuse, really. I knew Strawberry had a drug problem, and I didn't really care. Straw signed with the Dodgers, spurning the Mets in free agency. Some people have favorite players, and their favorite team is whatever team they happen to be playing for at the moment. I've always been a "team" guy, and when Straw left, I despised him. I hated him for leaving the Mets in the lurch. I hated him for passing up a chance to be the biggest New York icon since Mr. October so he could go back to the laid-back atmosphere of Los Angeles. And I hated him for (yup) his drug abuse, which suddenly seemed like an awful standard to set for children everywhere. (More on this double standard another time.)

After that was Howard Johnson. HoJo, in many ways, epitomized those "close-but-not-quite" Mets teams between 1987 and 1990. He had power, he had speed, he was exciting to watch...and he was ridiculously flawed as a baseball player. Like most of his teammates, Johnson couldn't hit for average at all, and couldn't play the field to save his life. He was likeable enough, but it wasn't the same as Strawberry.

The Mets were pretty much a disaster area from 1991-96 with a non-stop parade of expensive and forgettable ballplayers coming through. None filled the void that Strawberry had left in me.

The 1997 team overachieved its way to an 88 win season, however, giving hope for the future, and on May 22, 1998, the team made arguably the best trade in franchise history. I remember where I was: I was visiting my Aunt Penny, watching ESPN, when they said, "a New York team has made a trade for Mike Piazza. More after this commercial."

Understand, this was before the internet was the all-encompassing monolith that it is now. I hadn't kept up on any rumors, though I knew the Piazza to Florida trade from the week before was simply a way-station for Piazza to be shipped elsewhere by the "We're a big market team when the mood strikes us" Marlins. "Has to be the Yankees", I said. "Probably for that Posada kid and some other stuff." I tried not to get my hopes up, as I sat through what felt like the longest commercial break in history. Finally, Sportscenter came back, with a picture of Piazza....with a Mets logo in the background. Piazza had been acquired for Preston Wilson and two minor league prospects (neither of whom amounted to a thing). I had a new favorite player.

It wasn't always easy. I remember Piazza getting booed early on in his Mets tenure. Even recall thinking, during a prolonged slump early, "geez, we gave up that much for this guy?" I remember going to a doubleheader at Shea Stadium with my friend Mike Meives and suggesting that the Mets should trade Piazza to the Angels for Jim Edmonds, as had been rumored. Then, in the second game of the doubleheader, Piazza hit a go-ahead (and ultimately game-winning) blast to left field that had 55,000 Mets fans going crazy. At that moment, Piazza had won me over, and had won the rest of the Mets faithful over.

He signed a 7 year, $91 million deal that winter. I still remember jumping up and down and hooting and hollering when he did, like Homer Simpson bowling a perfect game or something. He led the team to the NLCS the next season, and the World Series the year after that. I remember Piazza's dramatic game-winning home run that capped a 10-9 win (after trailing 9-0) against the Braves. I remember his single-handed destruction of the Cardinals in the 2000 NLCS, when he his .412 and posted an almost-unheard of 1.486 OPS. And, more than any of those, I remember a game in Toronto that I went to where Piazza had a Roy Hobbs moment. He crushed, hammered, destroyed (choose your verb) a fastball to right center field. It left the park in the blink of an eye, and blew out a light on the scoreboard there. In fact, every time I'd go to Toronto to see the Mets play there (this was when MLB had an interleague play system that actually made sense: divisions that played divisions, i.e. AL East vs. NL East every year, etc.), Piazza homered. Coincidence or not, that was pretty special to me, and still is.

Piazza will, in all likelihood, play his last game as a Met today. He's 37 years old and by his own admission can't catch everyday anymore. He'll probably sign with Anaheim (because he has a house in LA) or Baltimore (because they love old, past-their-prime hitters). But here's the wonderful thing: it's an amicable parting. The Mets are sending Piazza off with class, and he's dealing with it well. He's not claiming that they're shoving him out the door; he knows that he's limited to a DH role next season, which obviously isn't available in New York. He'll probably play another season or two, retire and go into the Hall of Fame as a Met, joining Tom Seaver as the only ones in the Hall. And unlike Seaver, I'll be able to say that I saw him during his best days.

Thanks for everything, Mike.